The Triumph of Democracy?

"Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." So said Winston Churchill in November 1947, a time when Soviet Communism was beginning to offer the world a new alternative.


What a bad week to test this idea.

In the United States: A dispute between Donald Trump and the Democratic leadership in Congress over the president's promised border wall has forced a shutdown of parts of the federal government, leaving 800,000 public sector workers without salaries for the past 28 days. It's now the longest shutdown in US history.

But despite the well-publicized problems the shutdown has created, Americans themselves aren't demanding compromise. A Pew Research poll published this week found that 72 percent of self-described Republicans say Trump should not sign legislation to end this standoff until Democrats provide funding for the wall, and 88 percent of Democrats say he shouldn't get a dime for this project. The shutdown grinds on, and the unpopular president and even more unpopular Congress refuse to budge.

Some of Trump's supporters say he is the target of partisan attacks by so-called Deep State agents within ferrel law enforcement and the bureaucracy. The president has described the media as the "enemy of the people," and Trump felt compelled this week to publicly deny that he's a Russian agent.

This is not a good moment to claim that American democracy is the envy of the world. And President Trump may well be refused the highest-profile platform on which to do just that – with news this week that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is planning to delay the State of the Union address until the government shutdown is brought to a close.

In Britain: The House of Commons voted this week to reject Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan. The defeat came by the widest margin that institution has seen in 95 years. An opposition-led bid to force early elections failed, and the government remains in place.

In short, Britons voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, but it's possible there is no single Brexit plan that can gain majority support from parliament. Nor is there any guarantee that a second Brexit referendum would produce a different result than the first.

Thus, on the single most important question the United Kingdom has faced in many decades, democracy has led the nation into an angry stalemate. Citizens of that country are no closer to resolution than they were the day after the referendum, and they're left to doubt whether their elected leaders can accomplish anything.

The bigger picture: For the past several years, voters in some of the world's wealthiest democracies have used elections to deliver a clear message: "Our government is not meeting our needs." But the dysfunction on display this week in the United States and United Kingdom have reached new heights of absurdity.

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.